Monday, May 25, 2009

Wading Safety--Part 1

Since I first became a fly fisher 3 years ago, I have always worn a personal flotation device (PFD). When I was a kid, we called them life jackets. If you aspire to become a fly fisher, you will see large groups of folks without PFD's. Unfortunately, this should not be the norm. Rocks are slick. Holes are deep. Stubbing your toe and falling into cold river water is uninspiring, not to mention the possibility of drowning. Originally I wore a PFD with a "shawl collar" and a pull string over my fly fishing vest. You pull the string if you get into trouble, thereby inflating the device and floating to safety. On the day I stepped in a hole and ran icy river water down my shirt sleeve and into my waders, however, I forgot to pull the string. The resulting struggle of attempting to rise upright with waders several pounds heavier, risisting another urge to fall, and holding on to my rod---all at the same time---is not a memory I treasure. After that exciting event, I re-considered my flotation options and searched for a combo PFD/fishing vest. The result was the purchase of a kayak vest, which performs both functions. I now have the security of knowing that if I fall, this outfit will keep me afloat as well as handy zippered pockets to keep secure all the "stuff" we fly fishers like to carry. If you're contemplating a switch to fly fishing and intend to wade, I strongly recommend you wear a PFD. Fly fishers believe in "catch and release". Make sure you're never caught without one!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Crooked Creek Crazy

Since I'm a rookie flyfisher, I don't often catch the largest fish on our outings. However, last week in Crooked Creek, my luck suddenly changed. After tying on one of my spouse's hand-tied flies, I made my first cast in front of a large rock. Originally, I thought I was hung; but when the line moved and a heavy fish attempted to swim away, I knew I was on to something. My 4 wt. Albright rod bent in a delicious arc and I carefully played the fish as he made several sashays back toward the rock. Luckily, I succeeded where he did not and soon had a large Smallmouth Bass near the boat. During the netting process is where I normally tend to lose the fish, as it's difficult to keep the line taut, hold the rod with one hand and scoop the fish with the other. Everything came together, however; and I soon landed the largest Smallmouth of my fly fishing career: 16' and over 2 pounds of brilliant gold streaked thunder. My husband happily declared it "the fish of the day." Stay in our guesthouse and arrange for one of our Smallmouth guides and you, too, can go Crooked Creek Crazy.

Dip Net Fever

At the age of ten I became an avid cane pole fishing enthusiast and later graduated to my first Zebco rod and reel. At the age of fifty-seven I considered myself a competent spincast fisherwoman, able to hold my own on river or lake. All my expertise flew out the window, however, when my husband Mike began fly-fishing. He stored all his old equipment and raved about the challenge of his new sport. I became intrigued.
Finally by summer of 2005, I could resist no longer. I began learning to cast. Mike attempted the role of teacher. All of us old married folks know this is a difficult situation. At one point, sitting on the steps of our front porch and directing me, he sighed. “Honey, I think you’ve about exhausted my patience.” I continued to flail until my arm ached trying keep my instructions intact: don’t break your wrist, bend your arm, load the rod, start at 10:00, stop at 2:00, don’t let the line end in a pile. My frazzled brain struggled.
In July I broke four ribs and punctured my lung in a freak boating accident. About two months into recovery, I began learning to fly fish again. A local fly shop associate instructed me in their parking lot. I learned about loops, the old “load the rod sequence” again, and a new technique of looking over my shoulder and watching the line in the far fetched hope it would stay straight keeping the offending loop from growing. I felt encouraged. One out of every ten casts, my line sailed across the yard straight out and not in a tangle. Progress was mine.
The next day I paid for the new strategies. My ribs throbbed at the stretches endured from the day before. For the next several months, fly-fishing wasn’t high on the priority list. Recuperating was. I fished a total of three times, caught two fish from our riverboat and remained totally discouraged by my ineptitude to cast the rod.
This spring buoyed by healing and a new determination, I resolved to succeed. The fly shop guy agreed to an encore session. I began to improve somewhat. When I complained at slow progress, a neighbor active in our fly-fishing club said, “just go out there and keep after it.” Another woman fly fisher volunteered, “our instructor said," ‘I don’t care how you get it out there, just get it out there!’
I can do this; I promised myself. I practiced my casting while wade fishing in our stretch of the White River. On Feb. 21, I waded out with a Chernobyl ant. The wind blew my line around. I continued to cast determined more than anything to practice. After about three hours, the net, which was hooked on the back of my vest on a retractable string, began to annoy me bumping against my leg. The wind blew it in front of me. I sighed in frustration. Why was I draggin’ it around?

Watching white capped waves led to drowsiness. Memories of farm days and horses asleep on their feet came to mind. I yawned and looked for my ant, now buried in deep water and completely disappeared. Our club guest speaker the previous meeting emphasized “lifting the rod.” All afternoon I had repeated that mantra. And so I lifted the rod--which suddenly throbbed in my hand. There was a heavy fish at the end.
He wouldn’t come in. Should I crank or pull in line? In panic I did both, but remembered to keep tension steady. He splashed once. Please stay on, I prayed, and he did. “Oh my gosh,” I shouted to the trees. “This is a big fish!”
Finally I could see him. About twenty-three inches of critter gave me the fish eye as a Brown trout glided in. Now where was that blasted net that had aggravated me all day? Locating it, I stabbed at the fish that laughed and flopped the other direction. “Go for the tail, stupid,” I told myself. I scooped once more and missed. At last, more through accident than design, I captured the trout.
I reached for the forceps to remove the hook, but forgot to unhinge them. The Brown continued to bounce in the net. Time was wasting in terms of getting the fish back into the water without harm. After several attempts, I pried the hook from his tough mouth and released him into shallow water. He paused unaware that he was free.
So did I. Afraid he was hurt, I urged him forward with my now best friend favorite dip net. I let out a breath of relief when he swam away.
I’d done it. I’d caught my first hefty fish on a fly rod. "Yee haw," I yelled to the Great Blue Heron swooping over my site. Rejuvenated and no longer quite the rookie, I reentered the water secure in the confidence that I had reached new status if only in the eyes of my critter audience.